Business leaders unite to bring high-quality pre-K to more children

North Carolina CEOs and National Institute for Early Education Research tout new recommendations for increasing early education access

Leaders from some of North Carolina’s most prominent businesses are joining with the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) to recommend strategies to increase participation in North Carolina’s high-quality pre-K program, NC Pre-K. The new NIEER research report was prompted when, even with a significant 2017 increase in funding for NC Pre-K, many North Carolina counties did not attempt to expand access.

In fact, 44 North Carolina counties declined any new expansion funding, even though thousands of eligible children were not being served. Again, in 2018, 34 counties declined expansion funding.

“Recent increases in NC Pre-K funding are a sound investment in our children’s success and the development of a skilled future workforce,” said SAS CEO Jim Goodnight. “Now we need to make sure eligible kids can seize the opportunity to build strong educational foundations.”

The NIEER report, Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions, highlights three interrelated issues critical to expanding the NC Pre-K program: accurately determining how many children are eligible for NC Pre-K but lack access; analyzing whether county “waiting lists” reflect the actual need and demand for NC Pre-K, and barriers to expanding NC Pre-K to fully meet the need.

This difficulty to expand NC Pre-K – experienced by all counties in the state – is particularly troubling as new research findings from Duke University indicate that the positive impacts from participating in the program last at least through eighth grade. Research from Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy found NC Pre-K boosted math and reading test scores and reduced special education placements and grade repetition through at least the eighth grade.

The NC Pre-K program was launched in 2001 to provide high-quality early learning opportunities to at-risk children. However, NC Pre-K now reaches less than half the children it was designed to serve. Significant numbers of young children – almost 33,000 – across all races and ethnicities, in both rural and urban areas, are losing the opportunity to develop foundational skills needed to succeed in school and beyond.

NIEER determined through its statewide survey and analysis that a key factor affecting the ability to expand is the way in which state funding for the program is structured. The NIEER report outlines recommendations to modify the state’s approach to funding NC Pre-K to overcome barriers to expansion. The recommendations were announced today at a Raleigh elementary school at a press conference that included:

  • Steven Barnett, NIEER founder and Senior Co-Director.
  • Charles Bowman, North Carolina Market President, Bank of America.
  • Jim Goodnight, SAS CEO.
  • Jim Hansen, Regional President, PNC Financial Services, Eastern Carolina.
  • Dale Jenkins, CEO, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina.
  • Jim Whitehurst, CEO, Red Hat.

“We applaud North Carolina for supporting a high-quality program and urge the state to provide more young children the chance to benefit from NC Pre-K,” Barnett said. “Our recommendations today for modifying the current funding structure are designed to address financial realities and barriers to expansion.” 

The full NIEER report and recommendations are available here. Some recommendations may be budget-neutral, others strategically target specific barriers, and others are designed to meet rising program costs.

The business case for pre-K

Getting children into NC Pre-K lays the foundations for increasing third-grade reading proficiency – the goal of this group of CEOs.

According to the Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 39 percent of North Carolina fourth graders are proficient in reading. Students who cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than those with better reading skills. Also, students with strong reading skills at the end of third grade are much more likely to seek post-secondary education or training.

These were some of the findings of the Business Roundtable report, Why Reading Matters and What to Do About It, created in 2017 by a task force led by Goodnight. Expanded access to high-quality pre-K is a key policy recommendation in the report. Goodnight gathered a group of 13 North Carolina CEOs and business leaders representing the companies above as well as others such as AT&T, National Gypsum and Ingersoll Rand to advocate for more access for more kids to NC Pre-K.

The CEOs and Barnett presented today’s recommendations to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, Speaker of the House Tim Moore and other members of the General Assembly.

Barriers to Expansion of NC Pre-K: Problems and Potential Solutions was supported with funding from PNC Financial Services and technical support by SAS.

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